The upcoming holiday season is shaping up to be a doozy in terms of heightened expectations and risks of elevated anxiety.
Eager to make up for the missed connections of 2020, many are determined to spread more holiday cheer. A recent American Express survey found that 38% of consumers are planning to spend more this year than last year's holiday season.
Yet, frustrations will also likely soar due to empty shelves, dwindling retailer inventories and fraying nerves up and down the overtaxed supply chain. Furthermore, lingering pandemic-related mental health issues could derail many a best intention.
With anticipation high and conditions far from ideal, it may be a good time to step back from your spending plans and reorient yourself and your family to a revised definition of happiness.
"This year, it will be critical to plan early, create lists of goals, rank those goals based on what's really important and set spending priorities," said Maureen Kelley, director of family office services with BOK Financial®. "One of the most important emotions we can demonstrate and be cognizant of is gratitude, not just for material things, but perhaps this year it's around health or the ability to be with loved ones.
“Instead of focusing on things that maybe we don't have, really focus on what we do have and what we can be thankful for—and that creates a more joyful experience.”- Maureen Kelley, director of family office services with BOK Financial
Kelley said some of her clients have scheduled trips to be with family instead of planning on purchasing an abundance of holiday gifts this year. To help younger family members appreciate the value of the visits, they're also reducing the gift giving to one or two special items per child.
"Many people are saying they want to direct more of their spending toward experiences instead of simply more stuff," she said.
Seasonal effects raise an already high bar
As a baseline, a recent poll by the American Psychological Association found that 61% of U.S. adults identified money as a significant stressor, second only to the 66% of those employed who said work was the leading source of stress.
The coming weeks will likely exacerbate matters, Kelley said, as a growing culture of divisiveness, broad disparities in wealth and continued pandemic uncertainties compound frustrations with a challenging retail environment. Already, a LendingTree survey found that 48% of U.S. consumers are dreading the holiday season and its related costs.
"Anxiety around the holidays and holiday expenses is magnified right now as the issues we're currently facing, and the impact those issues have on us, are so different from past years," said Kelley, a Certified Financial Therapist. "Plus, it's a time of year when American consumers tend to rack up more consumer debt, which adds even more stress."
If families insist on charging ahead with plans that result in overspending, they're unlikely to find much mental health relief in January either.
"The sense of letdown after the holidays is common, and when the bills come due, that creates even more anxiety," Kelley said.
Ease the burden
Start planning for travel, gift giving and entertainment as soon as possible—before the emotions kick in, Kelley suggests. Then, once you've outlined your game plan, give yourself the latitude to enjoy the season.
"Being intentional really helps eliminate the stress, but once you've made those preparations, give yourself permission to feel good about how you're spending that money and how it positively impacts the family," she said. "It's a great opportunity to reinforce your family value system, especially with regard to what you can give to impact others' lives and showing gratitude for what you have."
In addition, the measured approach tends to offer rewards into the New Year.
"Those families that are more intentional and put more meaning behind their holiday giving have also found the silver lining on the other side of the season," Kelley said. "There's less debt and more memories."